Hunt Valley Mall sale confirmed by manager

Conn. company sets March 31 takeover

Commercial real estate

March 07, 2000|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

A Connecticut-based retail developer has finalized a contract to buy Hunt Valley Mall and expects to close the deal March 31, the manager of the troubled mall said yesterday.

Starwood Ceruzzi LLC had said it was negotiating to buy the mall, which has languished half-empty for years as shoppers flocked to newer, more upscale regional malls and many merchants were forced to move out.

Representatives of Star- wood Ceruzzi could not be reached yesterday to discuss plans for the center.

The sales contract between Starwood and mall owner Equitable Life Assurance Society became final late Friday, said Richard B. Kabat, a senior vice president with Trammell Crow Co., the mall's manager and developer of an initial phase of redevelopment.

Negotiations had stalled as Starwood Ceruzzi sought to reach an agreement with anchor Sears, Roebuck and Co. on changes the new owner plans as part of the mall's continued redevelopment, Kabat said.

Starwood Ceruzzi was reportedly considering demolishing all or much of the mall's interior space and reconfiguring the center with "category killer" value-oriented chains.

More recently, sources said, plans have shifted toward keeping part of the mall enclosed and bringing in new anchors. Tenants said about 30 to 40 smaller merchants are hoping to stay at Hunt Valley, especially if Starwood ends up developing such a hybrid center.

Kabat referred all questions about the plans and potential tenants to Starwood, saying only, "There are a number of tenants that have expressed interest."

Starwood Ceruzzi is an affiliate of Starwood Capital Group, owner of Westin Hotels and ITT Sheraton Corp.

Starwood Ceruzzi has developed more than 4 million square feet of shopping centers in the northeastern United States since 1988.

The developer has attracted national retail chains to many of its centers, such as Home Depot, Target, Stop 'N Shop, Barnes & Noble, Borders Books and Gap Inc. and the Gap's Old Navy division.

Hunt Valley Mall, which opened in 1981, has been overcome by competition from newer, expanding regional malls such as Towson Town Center and the Owings Mills mall.

In 1996, Equitable began remaking Hunt Valley as a value-oriented center, hiring developer and manager Faison Group of Charlotte, N.C., to carry out the plan.

Trammell Crow replaced Faison after acquiring the company in 1998.

The redevelopment has added a Wal-Mart, Burlington Coat Factory, a movie megaplex and freestanding restaurants.

But a second phase of renovations, which was to include a department store, other anchors and interior remodeling, never happened. The developer reportedly had been close to closing deals to bring in Kohl's, Steinmart, Old Navy, Saks Off 5th and Atlantic Books.

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